As you might expect, Photoshop Elements is built around a cut-down version of the industry-standard Photoshop, but the real secret of its success is the separate Organizer module for image management. This is built around a central photo browser, into which all imported photos are added as smoothly resizable thumbnails. With thousands of images to manage, it would be easy to get lost, but the Organizer offers a timeline to quickly narrow your search, as well as a superb Date view that lets you visually locate photos via a calendar. A new Map view lets you view photos by where they were taken; this is either automatic from a GPS-enabled camera or configured manually. You can also view images by folder and import batch.
Adding new photos to your collection is straightforward, and the enhanced Adobe Downloader is impressive. By default it copies all images to a new folder, while an advanced mode lets you see thumbnails, rotate images, apply author and copyright information, and automatically split your photos up into subfolder groups based on when the images were taken. Particularly useful is the ability to set the downloader to automatically remove red eye, but don’t expect it to pick up all cases.
The downloader can also now be used to suggest Photo Stacks. Stacks are unique to Photoshop Elements and let you group similar photos, say different exposure settings, under a single representative image. You can expand or collapse any or all stacks in situ in the Photo Browser – this is also true of Version Sets, which are the stacks that Elements creates when you edit files.
Stacks allow full control over your images, as does Elements’ ad hoc Collections, which let you create arbitrary groupings of images, say for printing or further work. What makes Elements stand out, though, are its tagging capabilities, which let you set up hierarchies of keywords – family, friends, events, places – and then quickly apply them to your photos for future retrieval. In other applications, this tends to be a thankless task, but Elements makes it visual and simple. A face-tagging feature analyses images, isolating faces that are then presented in a dedicated dialog ready for tagging.
In terms of editing power, Elements’ Organizer is now limited to automatic red-eye removal and a single Auto Smart Fix command. If you need more than that, you have to open your photo into the separate Editor module’s Quick Fix window. This provides cropping, red-eye removal and selection tools to the left, a large before-and-after preview in the centre, and the most important colour-correction controls as sliders to the right. In the Adjust and Filter menus, options include control over levels, hue/saturation and skin colour. New options include Adjust Sharpness and Correct Camera Distortion.
Switch to Full Edit mode for full editing power. There’s a range of retouching tools, such as the Healing Brush tool for removing unwanted spots and objects, and the ability to apply colour corrections as non-destructive layers. The Layers palette also opens up the possibility of advanced creative compositing, while the Artwork and Effects palette lets you apply artistic filters, backgrounds, shapes, text effects and frames.
To share images, you can output multiple prints based on templates, but there are also wizards for creating album pages, greeting cards, CD jackets and more. There’s a dedicated slideshow editor with full control over transitions, music, narration, and pan and zoom effects, which can output to PDF or WMV. PDF files are better suited to emailing, while WMV files are ideal for burning to VCD and DVD, and for viewing via Windows Media Center.
Photoshop Elements also offers the ability to output web galleries. In the past, gallery creation was awkward and underpowered, but the new interface is much smoother with new templates including interactive and animated Flash-based options. Crucially, Adobe also now provides free web hosting at www.photoshopshowcase.com
, to which Elements 5 users can post their images and customised galleries ready to share with invited friends or family, or the general public. It’s early days, and Flickr has nothing to fear as things stand, but the future potential for integration between desktop application and website is enormous. And, with its unmatched record of understanding what users want to do with their photographs and enabling them to do it, Photoshop Elements is sure to deliver.